Memories are a powerful thing. Feeling memories of the pain and disappointment of holidays past can overwhelm us so much so that we have come to expect nothing different. Or perhaps, our feeling memories might be so wonderful that we again have expectations of exciting holiday experiences to be had.
If we are so sure that the pain of the past will revisit us, we automatically brace ourselves for it, and we are seldom disappointed; the pain returns because that is what we were dwelling on. In the same vein, if we are so sure that each holiday will bring the same joy of the past, we are bound to be disillusioned if the reality does not favorably compare with the memory.
Memories however, are nothing more than reminders of what was. They are not our present reality. If we keep that in mind, we can approach the holiday season with an open heart and hope for a positive experience.
What is your reaction inside when the holiday season is mentioned? Do you immediately have warm thoughts of family, holiday meals, and merriment, or does your mind conjure up dark images of depression, chaos, and family arguments?
Many of us are so entrenched in the hurtful memories of past holidays that we have come to expect the same with each passing year. We grit our teeth and prepare for what’s coming because we know that it will be the same this year.
For many of us, holidays are something to be endured rather than enjoyed. The pain of past holidays is a constant reminder of the hurt that we suffered at this time of year. It can feel particularly difficult – if not impossible – to simply free ourselves of the associations we have of personal pain in relation to the holiday.
But it doesn’t have to be. Holidays are what we make of them. We can decide to follow old traditions or make up new ones of our own. If we choose to, we can spend the time with family or can do something completely different, if it will bring us happiness during the season.
If we share our pain with our loved ones, we can resolve to make new memories to replace those that hurt us in the past. We can also concentrate on making the holidays special for someone else. When we take the emphasis off ourselves and place it on another, we build the foundation for new, happy experiences and memories of the holiday season.
Gratitude is another powerful tool that can help us create a new positive holiday season for ourselves. Unfortunately, so many of us feel that we have little for which to be grateful for. When our past is laden with the damage done to us, we may think it ironic to be thankful for anything at all. Instead of viewing it that way, perhaps we can frame it in a different manner:
We would not be the people we are today if it were not for the trauma and hurt that we have survived!
There are opportunities for healing and growth all around us, and when we take advantage of those, we are able to be of service by bringing our story to others and being an example for them to follow.
Remember, that when the holidays come you can affect others as much as you affect yourself. You can remain mired in memories of the past, or you can enjoy the present by spreading joy to others. Small acts – running errands for someone housebound, shoveling an elderly person’s sidewalk, making small but heartfelt gifts for friends – can bring such joy to others. When you do that, you’ll find that the joy is infectious, because you will feel it too. The gift of giving to others will fill that empty space that has taken up residence in you, and you will be able to release yourself from those past memories because you will be too busy in the present to dwell on them.
You cannot change your past holidays, but you can change your future ones.
This article was written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The content of this article is based on their book: “One in the Spirit: Meditation Course for Recovering Couples”
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Last reviewed: 3 Jul 2014